The report on paid parental leave, commissioned by the Government, shows an almost unique level of courage in distinguishing clearly between the needs of mothers who were in paid work and those who were not. In recommending 18 weeks paid maternity leave at the current minimum wage, paid for by general revenue, they have clearly made the point that there is a clear relationship between paid work and care responsibilities.

For an economics driven institution this is a rare recognition that it is okay for paid workers to mix paid work and care. We expected this recognition from the ignored Report in 2002 by the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, but it is much more powerful to see this belated recognition of more than workplace productivity from the presumably dry Commissioners.

This is one of the most significant points in this report. It states this very clearly:

“Normalcy” of parental leave and maximising retention

The more that parental leave arrangements mimic those that exist as part of routine employment contracts, the more they will be seen by employers and employees as standard employment arrangements, with the dual effect of:

Promoting employment continuity and workplace retention (thus helping to preserve job and employer-specific skills that would be reduced if parents were to resign or move to another employer) and reducing training costs for employers signalling that looking after children while still being employed is just a normal part of working life. (My bold).

It is more than time that this was acknowledged and I can only hope that the government will not shelve this one or wimp it and pay out another welfare payment like badly designed Howard Baby Bonus. Keating also did this with the original maternity payment because neither government has ever been prepared to make a payment to mothers in paid work, which was not paid to “traditional” mothers, including child care subsidies.

Even the ACTU and other unions were suggesting that all mothers should get paid maternity leave, a somewhat absurd concept as leave is clearly related to paid work, and new mothers certainly don’t take leave from the unpaid chores, as well as joys, of a new baby!

This report takes nothing from those not in paid work, and some more who are still not eligible but adds a substantial payment to those mainly low paid workers, often part time or regular casuals, who had the most difficulty in bargaining for any paid leave. They will now be more likely to be able to take time off. These include most of the 16% who now return to work within the first three months.

It also includes for the first time two weeks for fathers on a use it or lose it basis. Of course, there are gaps: too many workers still miss out, six months would have been better and seeking top ups to real replacements are still an issue, but it is a huge first step, if we get it!

So far, the government is making no clear commitment, apart from the PM saying “it’s time to bite the bullet”. It is an interim report, for discussion, so it’s up to all those out here who think it is a good report, to approve its generally good proposals and make sure the final version in February is not watered down.

Similarly, the Government needs to be encouraged to both accept its framework and find the funding of less than $500M.

Listen up boys, it’s good economics!

Peter Fray

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